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The biggest change to homelessness law in forty years: what does it mean for young people?

James de Souza | 03.04.18

Today, 3 April 2018, the long-awaited Homelessness Reduction Act comes into play. The biggest change to homelessness law in England in forty years, it has been hailed as a “crucial step forward” by Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of homelessness charity Crisis. But what difference will it really make?

The Homelessness Reduction Act introduces a number of key measures:

  • An extension of the period ‘threatened with homelessness’ from 28 to 56 days. This means a person is treated as being threatened with homelessness if it is likely they will become homeless within 56 days
  • A duty to prevent homelessness for all eligible applicants threated with homelessness, regardless of ‘priority need’ (e.g. those with dependent children or considered vulnerable)
  • A duty to relieve homelessness for all eligible homeless applicants, regardless of priority need
  • A duty to refer – public services will need to notify a local authority if they come into contact with someone they think may be homeless or at risk of becoming homelessness
  • A duty for councils to provide advisory services on homelessness, preventing homelessness and people’s rights, free of charge
  • A duty to access all applicants’ cases and agree a personalised plan

The government's efforts to tackle homelessness are strongly welcomed, especially at a time when 1 in 5 young people are homeless. Most of these young people are hidden from the public eye, forced to sleep on sofas, live in overcrowded hostels, or even stay with strangers, which leaves them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Crucially, the Homelessness Reduction Act means that all young people who are homeless are entitled to support from their council, regardless of whether they are considered ‘priority need’.

However, while the Homelessness Reduction Act requires councils to provide personalised housing plans to help young people remain in or find suitable accommodation, they will not have to directly secure accommodation for young people.

The new Act will not end youth homelessness on its own. There needs to be a range of actions to both prevent young people becoming homeless in the first place, and to help those who already are find a safe place to live.

Last week, it was encouraging to see the government reverse its decision to scrap housing benefit for 18-21 year olds. Local authorities say welfare reforms are a main cause of a rise in youth homelessness, with many landlords simply refusing to rent to those under 21 for fear of them not being entitled to the housing part of Universal Credit. Thanks to the government’s U-turn, young people will now have a greater chance of securing their own home in the private rented sector, when no other options are available to them.

At the same time, we need to boost the supply of safe, secure and affordable accommodation. LandAid is helping achieve this by funding charities across the UK to create homes for vulnerable young people. By creating more safe, warm homes around the country, we can both help young people at risk of becoming homeless and protect those who already are.

The Homeless Reduction Act is indeed a crucial step in the right direction. But on its own, it isn’t enough. By working together with government, with charities, with local authorities, and of course, with property companies, we can not just reduce youth homelessness – we can end it.